U.S. university administrators strive to find the best ways to enroll deserving people of varied races, ethnicities, incomes, sexual orientation, abilities, qualities and education backgrounds

By Cassidy Stratton

Elon, N.C. — Type the word “diversity” in the search bar on Elon University’s home page. When you do, you will get nearly 9,000 results.

Why? Elon’s strategic plan requires it to make “an unprecedented university commitment to diversity and global engagement.”

Brooke Barnett, associate provost for inclusive community at Elon, works every day to ensure that Elon lives up to that commitment. “We wonder, ‘How can we construct the most diverse class and provide them the most amount of support?’” Barnett explained.

Elon is not the only institution of higher education striving for diversity — it is a priority at nearly every college in the nation.

Describing ‘diversity’ in a nutshell

The University of California at Berkley separates diversity into the following categories: age, ethnicity, gender, physical abilities/qualities, race, sexual orientation, educational background, geographic location, income, marital status, military experience, parental status, religious beliefs, work experience and job classification.

While those are commonly used terms, other universities categorize diversity, or what some call an “inclusive community,” with varying degrees of difference.

Elon notes that is works to create an intellectually diverse environment that fosters “diversity of thought, diversity of history, diversity of perspectives and diversity of background.”

Lynn F. Jacobs and Jeremy S. Hymans, professors and authors of the U.S. News & World educational column Professors Guide, say there are eight important reasons for communities to promote diversity:

· Expands worldliness

· Enhances social development

· Prepares students for future career success

· Prepares students for work in a global society

· Increases our knowledge base

· Promotes creative thinking

· Enhances self awareness

· Enriches the multiple perspectives

History of diversity recruitment

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy first introduced affirmative action. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Kennedy first used the term “in an Executive Order that directed government contractors to take ‘affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.’”

Its original intent to establish equal opportunity in the work place has since expanded. The American Civil Liberties Union says that the U.S. Military, Fortune 500, prominent sports figures and America’s top universities all support affirmative action. College and universities in particular have implemented the concept in their recruitment processes. This has increased the college enrollment rates for African American and Latino students.

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Census Bureau’s statistics on immediate college enrollment rates from 1990 to 2013 shows that there is a drop in the number of students who are attending college right after high school. This trend did not go unnoticed. In response, The National Center for Education Statistics analyzed the immediate college enrollment rates, which showed that high school graduates who identify as Asian have the highest immediate college enrollment rate. Whites and Latinos, although at lower percentages, are enrolling more immediately than African American high school graduates. This trend leads to the question of whether or not affirmative action is still a tactic at college and universities across the nation.

Institution comparisons and enrollment

There are two types of institutions that national studies of diversity focus on: selective and open-access. To further evaluate the effectiveness and success rates of both types of schools, racial diversity is used as a factor. Studies have shown the following trends:

Selective institutions

▪ Tend to be white-dominated in enrollment and staffing

▪ “High-scoring” white, Black and Hispanic students attend college at the same rate; however, more Black students end their college careers early than white and Hispanic students

Open-access institutions

▪ Black and Hispanic college students are primarily enrolled in these institutions

▪ Black and Hispanic students are more likely to get a certificate or associate’s degree and less likely to obtain a bachelor’s degree than white students at these institutions

▪ Completion at these institutions does not generally contribute to the best outcomes in regard to future graduate/professional schooling and/or job placement

What has been done?

According to Barnett, institutions across the country are undertaking specific efforts to address diversity in university communities. Among them are:

1. Applying specific models

In recent years, institutions have begun to move away from the Human Resources (HR) Compliance-Based Model, which specifically deals with the legal aspects of an employee’s position. It was what ensured that a school was hiring the best possible people for a position, underlying their commitment to diversity.

In the recent years, institutions, including Elon, have begun to move away from the HR-Compliance Based Model, and are now trying to incorporate the Infusion Model. This model creates multiple leadership positions with focuses on collaboration across departments in order to create the best diversity support for the entire campus community.

The Infusion Model is seen as successful. It provides support for those who need it, and educates those who do not identify with underrepresented groups. The model’s flexibility among departments allows room to work with admissions, which is important when trying to expand diverse enrollment.

2. Developing diversity-based offices

Image by Cassidy Stratton

The Infusion Model has required universities to create positions and offices that better serve the entire community. The categories listed in the diversity definition, can easily receive attention with the hiring of a professional or professional staff with a passion and connection to the specific demographic.

Institutions including the University of Illinois, Binghamton University, North Carolina State University and many more are known for developing offices that specifically work toward diversity.

Randy Williams, dean of multicultural affairs at Elon University, arrived on the campus in the fall of 2014 with a major project. He wanted to determine the “shared system” of multicultural resources on campus, and how each could work together to help students. “I took that as a challenge, to bring some clarity to that,” Williams says. With that goal in mind, Elon created the Center for Race, Ethnicity and Diversity Education (CREDE), which implemented the infusion model.

3. Creating commitments to diversity

Rhonda Belton, associate director of institutional research at Elon University compiles statistical studies and official reports. She says Elon is exploring the use of diversity dashboards. Such dashboards will allow the university to track success rates, needs of students, retention rates and other details tied to assessing students from a variety of populations.

With the diversity commitment in mind, Elon has also brought in outside resources to ensure that the entire community is involved. The Office of Inclusive Community and Well-Being has widely implemented the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) training model and created an open diversity workshop.

“Through the Campus of Difference efforts we are allowing students, staff and faculty to add a reflective piece to identity awareness,” says Jenn Grimmett, a Campus of Difference facilitator at Elon.

4. Observing other aspects of diversity

In response to the trends in diverse enrollment, universities have also begun to see how categories of diversity outside of race play important roles. There has been a trend toward looking at socioeconomic status and other indicators including attend to: first-generation college students, immigrants and those who have had to overcome significant family or personal challenges.

The Three R’s:
Recruitment, Resources and Retention

Intentional efforts at universities across the nation have contributed to creating more-diverse campus environments. Institutions generally work to strategically focus on three things in order to see improvements: resources, recruitment and retention — the Three R’s.

All over the nation, institutions have made strategic recruitment efforts in order to improve diversity including:

· Purchasing the names of multicultural high school students

· Planning campus visits and weekends specifically for multicultural students

· Traveling to multicultural college fairs and schools

The success of these efforts varies institution to institution, and is considered only the beginning stage to increasing the diverse enrollment on campuses.

Resources are also an essential part in recruiting students to an institution. The university needs to have resources to support the student and the student needs to have resources to get to the university.

Financial responsibility is often a discussion that comes about. A 2010 Georgetown study reported, “On average, whites hold $632,000 in wealth compared with $98,000 and $110,000, respectively for African Americans and Hispanics.” Framing the discussion about discrepancies in economic terms allows an institution to see disparities occurring in underrepresented groups.

Brooke Barnett, associate provost for inclusive community at Elon University in North Carolina, discusses undergraduate enrollment trends.

Tori Haring-Smith, president of Washington & Jefferson College noted in the 2012 article “Broadening our Definition of Diversity” that applications for federal student aid forms indicate the income, educational levels and occupations of students’ parents. “All of these markers of class can be used not only to establish financial aid packages, but also to give applicants from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds well-deserved credit for overcoming obstacles in their education that might, for example, reduce their SAT scores,” she wrote.

Smith says institutions should move away from simply providing merit scholarships and grants, but instead they should work to develop financial resources for those who may have faced adversity that could have prevented them from excelling in school. She added that applicants’ past experiences do not make them any more or less qualified for an institution and its financial resources. This approach allows an institution to create more financial aid packets that bolster need-based assistance, avoiding depending mostly upon students’ previous academic success in aid decisions.

“Recruitment efforts and resources are important because study after study has shown that in order for students to matriculate, the first impression and first six weeks of school are the determining factors,” says Jamie Butler, assistant director of the CREDE. Butler and other field experts believe that students must have access to resources and visually see people who look like them. If they do not they are less likely to get acclimated.

Dr. Matthew Lynch, an expert on education equity, reform and innovation, notes in his article “Diverse Conversations: True Diversity on Campus,” that institutions should focus on having more professors of color, more women in leadership, more students with disabilities, and more inclusive LGBT initiatives. These target efforts would not only create more inclusive campuses but also help with the retention of diverse groups of undergraduate students nationally.

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